Dutch politicians are regularly seen in late night talk shows, especially during the corona crisis. In the Dutch talk show ‘Op1’ party leader Rob Jetten from the social-liberal party D66 took part in a discussion and tried to explain how important the proposed Merkel-Macron Corona virus relief agreement is for the EU and the Netherlands. During the interview he stated the following: “Every euro that we give towards the EU budget, 12 euros will be returned to the Dutch business community.”
When Jetten made the statement in Op1 (at 25m50s, video in Dutch), on 19 May 2020, he was arguing for a modern European budget in which jobs and businesses in Southern Europe are preserved. However, the Minister President of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, said in the Dutch House of Representatives on 22 April that the Netherlands needs to get everything in order before they give more money to the EU for help against the corona virus. He said: “With all that money, at some point, they become a party committee looking for a party” (transcript in Dutch).
Jetten then criticized Rutte’s statement in this interview in the national Dutch newspaper ‘NRC Handelsblad’ three weeks later. Jetten continues to clarify himself in a TV interview in the talk show ‘Op1’. He states that we need to look after other EU countries. “We need to realize that our welfare stems from the European market”, he said.
Trade with Spain
In addition, Jetten sums up three points about how important a stable EU is for the Netherlands. He starts with: “The Netherlands currently trade more with Spain than with Brazil, Japan and Canada combined.” According to the latest statistics from CBS (see this table from the Central Bureau for Statistics in the Netherlands), this is true. But ‘trade’ has multiple interpretations. What Jetten means, is that the Netherlands exports more to Spain (14,8 billion) then to Brazil, Japan and Canada combined (10,8 billion).
When we count the export value in euros of the Netherlands to Spain, Brazil, Japan and Canada and the export value in euros of Spain, Brazil, Japan and Canada to the Netherlands, then it would be around the same amount of ‘trade’. In 2018, Brazil, Japan and Canada combined traded (import value plus export value) just above 24 billion euros with the Netherlands. Spain traded (import value plus export value) 23.5 billion euros with the Netherlands. His statement is mostly true, but it depends on the way you look at the definition of ‘trade’.
Trade with Italy
His next statement on his list was: “We make 8 billion euros profit from trading with the Italians.” According to the same statistics from CBS as used before, this is not true. In fact, it is more. For this check we assume that he thinks that profit is the export value minus the import value. The Netherlands imported in 2018 almost 11 billion euros from Italy. Italy imported more than 20 billion euros from the Netherlands. That difference is about 9.6 billion euros instead of 8 billion euros. This actually strengthens his opinion about the EU. For his purpose it doesn’t really matter if the profit is 8 billion or 9,6 billion. His point is that the Netherlands trade a lot with Italy.
Trade with the EU
The third and last statement Jetten made is: “Every euro that we give towards the EU budget, 12 euros will be returned to the Dutch business community”. This statement is more complicated.
He used this document from the European Commission as source (page 19, in English). The numbers in the table are a combination of three studies of the estimated benefits of the single market per country. The Netherlands (NL) contributes yearly 6,85 billion euros in the period 2021 until 2027. The estimated benefits for the Netherlands from the European market is 84,02 billion euros. When you divide the 84,02 billion euros by 6,85 billion euros, the outcome is 12,27 euros. That is the 12 euros where Jetten was referring to.
The reason why he refers to the Dutch business community, has to do with the GNI in the table. GNI stands for Gross National Income. This is used to calculate the total income earned by a nation’s people and businesses. It also includes money received from abroad. The contribution from the Netherlands to the EU is 0,83% of their GNI, the estimated benefits from the Netherlands is 9,46% of their GNI (almost 12 times as much). That’s why he concluded that the Dutch business community profits.
The problem with this claim is that the connection between the contribution from the Netherlands to the EU and the estimated benefits of the single market for the Netherlands is not causal. In definition it doesn’t mean that every euro the Netherlands contribute to the EU, that they get – for that 1 euro – 12 euros in return.
This doesn’t mean that Jetten is wrong about his statement that the Netherlands profit from the single market, but he oversimplifies the reality. The calculations are only about the intrinsic value of the money, it is far harder to – for example – put a value to the knowledge we share in the EU. And if the Netherlands invests less in the EU, it might or might not mean we will get more or less money in return. Also, what will happen if the Netherlands doesn’t assist other European countries financially? We can’t be certain and neither can be Jetten. The exact value of the EU market for a country is a complicated discussion and therefore it can’t be said that this claim is true or false. We conclude that this claim is uncheckable.
The first two statements Jetten made are mostly true: the Netherlands trades more with Spain than Brazil, Canada and Japan combined and also makes a profit on trade with Italy. That the Netherlands business community receives 12 euros per invested euro in the EU budget can’t be concluded. His third statement is uncheckable.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Esmée van Zon